Editor’s note: In reading n+1′s “White Indians,” I had my own thoughts and solicited the opinions of two Indian American friends, who agreed to have our dialogue published as long as they were anonymized. Let’s call them J and T. This is by no means meant to symbolize what all Indian Americans or all Asian Americans think; what follows is real talk about race, hip hop, arts and culture, and politics amongst friends.:
“White Indians” argues that South Asian Americans are a “safe” minority to have on-screen, that “no color is safer than South Asian brown. No minority presence in the US is more reassuring, or less likely to get angry or acknowledge your antiblack racism.”
C: My initial take was that as well written as the article is, I have mixed feelings because the editors (including editor Nikil Saval) don’t talk about the current mainstream or the conflation of South Asian American with the scary terrorist. Conflicted about a lot of it, but the handling of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley is spot on. Have noticed and cheered rise of desis on tv.
J: Thank you for sending this provocative article. I completely agree with your assessment of it esp. about Muslim-Americans. I too have mixed feelings, particularly about the caustic writing style. It kind of put me in a funk reading it in the morning. It was kind of all over the place and written from a masculine perspective. Why didn’t he mention The Mindy Project? asked K. One error that I’d point out is that Vijay Prashad actually says that the folks who came through the highly skilled labor pool were from middle-class families in India, not wealthy elites. Prof. Pras(h)ad was referenced in a poorly edited documentary “Not a Feather But a Dot.”
T: I actually thought it was very well-written, though after a while it did come off as ranting. That’s the point where I think it lost an overall thesis to the whole piece. However, I do agree with a lot of the points brought up, it’s all stuff I’ve heard in various places since college, just collated.
I agree with his point about Desi actors, but at the same time, I’m conflicted b/c I know a lot of them. They struggle for roles, because diverse roles don’t often exist for south asian actors — the reason the Outsourced people were so excited was, even though they were stereotyped roles, they were LEAD roles, something a lot of those actors have strived for for a long, long time and rarely gotten a shot at. And in the arts, Desis gravitate towards being performers, but not as much towards directing and producing, i.e. decision-making that would open up more opportunities for non-white actors. So essentially, they take what they can get, and I don’t think you can fault them for it. Kind of similar to Hattie McDaniel…..people always gave her crap about taking stereotyped black “mammie” roles, but at the same time, she won an OSCAR as a black woman in the 1930′s. You have to give her credit for that.
There actually are a lot of indian americans (younger) that Identify more with hip-hop culture and not so much the whiteness — but these are the kids of working class families, not the ones that grew up in affluent, “whiter” suburbs. Also — there are a lot of younger Indians leaning to the right, the ones who grew up in more affluent suburbs and all want to open their own businesses, or who are culturally sheltered and think gay marriage is gross….
J: Yeah, one of my young 18 year old cousins is a mini-Republican in the making, all about entrepreneurship, and grew up in predominantly white affluent suburbs. hip-hop is no longer black, urban, or low-income in its roots anymore – it’s global, and there are plenty of people of all races who identify with it, both as listeners and producers.
T: My point about the hip hop was not so much about identifying with blacks (look at most of Irvine, CA as an illustration — hip hop oriented but still very, very Asian). A better way of saying it is that there’s a contingent of young Desis who are not white-identifying, usually from less affluent backgrounds.
C: I think there is a subset of any minority that is not white or mainstream identifying. 626 and Garden City CA is a good example too. How does this compare with the diaspora experience?
Actually, if you don’t mind, this is a pretty educational dialogue. Would it be ok to post this dialogue, with names stripped out if you prefer, to the aaa fund blog?
T: I’m fine if you post the comments, i’ll leave it up to J.
J: Sure, no names please.